Top 5 Most Common Paid Search Pitfalls

Search marketing has seen explosive growth since its birth, and owes its rapid adoption by marketers to the increasing volume of consumers that use search as part of their every day lives. Its main role has always been to help the consumer find relevant products, services or information via the web. With user attention almost solely focused on the results on the first page, it stands to reason that being on page one on a major search engine should produce a significant amount of qualified traffic, sales and of course a strong revenue stream.

The quickest route to that revenue stream is Paid Search, also known as pay per click (PPC) paid for listings or pay for promotion marketing. At present in the UK there are four main search networks - Google, Yahoo Search Marketing, Microsoft Adcenter and Miva all offering paid search programmes to the advertiser. For the advertiser seeking to do this alone without the assistance of a search engine marketing agency, this process should be simple and profitable, but is often tricky and over complicated.

As part of our service here at Greenlight; we audit any pre-Greenlight paid search activity - mainly as a result of a prospective client being unsatisfied with their current provider. The audit aims to highlight trends and drawbacks in their campaign but also get a clear understanding of their limitations to success. Greenlight generally see a number of common pitfalls which we believe are some of the main reasons why advertisers struggle to make a success out of their paid search activity. The following Top Five illustrates some of these pitfalls in more detail.

(1) Poor Mix of Keywords

For any novice it is most common to combine all generic, product, seasonal, special offer and branding keywords into one or more adgroups/categories. With Google's Quality Based Bidding (QBB)1 in place focusing on relevancy, the advertiser must ensure their keyword analysis considers only the most relevant keywords to the products or services they have on offer.

The long-tail2 is even more essential to securing the 'quality' consumer - as it avoids relying on pure generics, which just drive volume levels. As part of the process, the search networks clearly state what they consider to be qualified keywords. Although, the most important thing to remember is your target audience; understanding how and where they search.

What do the search networks say about keywords?

  • The more detail in a keyword list, the more potential customers (clicks) your ads will receive
  • Your selection of keywords form the basis of your campaign - so pick them carefully
  • Use a combination of specific/niche and generic keywords/phrases - don't forget your bread & butter
  • Try to be specific with the more popular terms, e.g. Nokia phones could become 'Nokia 6230'
  • Include all spelling variations (including misspellings) to reach a wider audience
  • Think like your customer Include both singular & plural variations
  • Think geographically e.g. Carphonewarehouse on Oxford Street
  • Always consider relevancy
  • Be as creative as possible…

Grouping your keywords accordingly is just as important as having the right the keywords. The selected keywords must be grouped not only to manage both the performance and budget, but going back to Google's Quality Score (QS); it is imperative to group keywords effectively to add to the campaign's relevancy. It is crucial to make sure ad copy is as relevant to the keywords as possible. This can only be achieved through grouping together the right terms.

(2) Keyword & Match Type Duplication

Keyword duplication is also a big issue in both keyword match-typing and variations of the keywords themselves. Remember the noise words such as 'at, in' etc. are not included as part of the search query, therefore do not include both variations in a search string. One version is enough!

Similar to match-typing in Google, it is unnecessary to match-type the same group of keywords using broad, phrase and exact match types. When match-typing consider how the keyword(s) are used; most importantly will the match type actually be effective. In addition, negative matching also reduces budget wastage and further refines the returned search volume. With Google especially, duplication slows down a campaign as it doesn't understand where to attribute the click to. Google then splits the visibility and Click Thru Rate (CTR) across the duplication; which in turn prevents the campaign from performing to optimal levels.

(3) Unfocused Ad Copy

Ad copy is the window to your website; unfortunately for the novice advertiser, this is in many cases a wasted opportunity. Each of the search networks, provide very limited character limits in which many advertisers either state the obvious in a less attractive proposition or use generic copy to sell a range of products. Both unfocused approaches can only result in poor CTR and fewer clicks/conversions being achieved.

When composing ad copy, it should be written for each keyword listing and each of the search engines being used - be smart, the Google user isn't the same as the MSN or Yahoo user. Having identified and expanded your keyword analysis, each listing should be carefully reviewed and written for each listing to maximise customer appeal. Setting the tone of business is essential to attracting the right customer base and filtering out wasted clicks. Ad copy should prepare an audience for what you want them to do but also what they are looking for. Ad copy must be compelling and standout from your competitors' copy; your call to action should be specific to your business and offer. Ad copy must reflect the keywords chosen and the copy the users see when they enter the site. This makes it easier for customers to follow through and convert (make a purchase, enquiry, sign-up etc.).

Greenlight employs its Adapt tool3 for many clients to ensure ad copy is as relevant to the keyword/product as possible. Using our work for HMV as an example, by improving the accuracy & relevancy of their PPC ads, HMV have observed a phenomenal rise in their CTR which in turn has significantly lowered their Cost Per Click (CPC). The rise in CTR has resulted in an average monthly increase in traffic of 200 per cent, an unprecedented number of conversions (sales) with the overall ROI for the campaign exceeding 1200 per cent during peak periods.

HMV's eCase Study & Client Video Testimonial is available at

What do the search networks say about ad copy?

The Do's of writing ads

The Don'ts of writing ads

- Do include keywords in your ad

- Don't use inappropriate language

- Do include incentives & offers

- Don't overstate special offers, competitive claims

- Do include specific 'calls to action'

- Don't lie

- Do include popular keywords in the title

- Don't use unacceptable phrases, e.g. 'click here'

- Do write clearly, keeping it short & snappy

- Don't use blank lines

- Do set customer expectations correctly

- Don't forget good grammar & spelling

- Do test different ads for the same adgroups/categories

- Don't misuse capitalisation and punctuation

- Do remember your target audience

- Don't use superlatives, e.g. best, cheapest

- Do check what your competitors are saying

- Don't repeat yourself

- Don't abuse trademarks of others

(4) Bad Use of Landing Page

A fundamental rule of paid search is that all ads direct the user to the offer page, product details or call to action. Directing the user to an inappropriate page will affect the CTR and user experience. Relevancy in landing pages is now also part of Google's quality based bidding.

To explain, in the past 8 months Google have added a new dimension to Quality Based Bidding; to which the landing page is effectively seen as an additional quality score. While this currently sits separately and only affects the minimum bid that you pay, Google is talking about incorporating it into the overall quality score which looks at relevancy. This new QS is where AdsBots (PPC spiders) go out spidering landing pages, similar to the natural search process. These AdsBots look specifically for various factors of relevancy to back up the offering in the ad and the keywords that the advertising is using. Creating more specific on-page content will allow for better deeplinked urls. This I where Greenlight clients have the advantage of combining both their PPC and SEO strategies - testing any SEO pages within your PPC campaigns for effectiveness or vice versa.

In short, keep it relevant as this will create the best user experience and you may also guarantee a repeat visitor.

(5) Bad Bidding & Budget Strategy

Even though Google and the other networks are not solely based on the auction model (highest bid achieves top position) and relevancy is now a strong element to achieving campaign success, many advertisers are still over bidding to compensate for a poor campaign. The bidding element to managing a paid search campaign will always be present, especially considering it's still a pay per click model. However, many advertisers are using this to secure good positioning through paying over the odds per click. Whilst this strategy may keep you at the top, the campaign isn't cost effective and Google will continue to penalise you for lacking relevancy.

Paid Search is about achieving an affordable bottom line; therefore the Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) should also be as important as the Cost Per Click.

Many companies are still allowing Bid Management4 tools to automate their campaigns. The problem with Bid Management is the tool is always in isolation and will over time start to increase CPC's to get a desired ad position; rather than considering CPA or ROI. Quite uniquely Greenlight use sophisticated algorithms to determine what isn't performing and why. We work with Google's rule and get rewarded by it. What companies aren't doing is improving the ad copy which increases the CTR and as a result lowers the CPC to maintain or increase ad positioning.

Implementing either the search network's free tracking solutions or a more advanced third party solution will assist any advertiser in managing their budgets and campaign expectations. If you are able to measure the effectiveness of a keyword, adgroup, ad copy or landing page; then it will become evident very quickly whether or not the budget/bid assigned is worth the investment. Also, do your research - check out the search networks keyword tools which also provide a rough estimate on CPC prices and visibility. These tools allow you to forecast whether the keywords will generate the right volume levels and if they are affordable.

For Google alone, there is also a price guide in the shape of minimum and maximum bidding options. For example, should you see your minimum bid at £0.02 but you've set your maximum at £1.00 yet your quality score is good or above; then you're over bidding. Your maximum could easily be brought down to as little as £0.10 and still retain the same quality score. Just remember to keep the campaign relevant, building on that CTR.

Blanket bidding is also a massive issue, where the advertiser chooses a maximum threshold and applies it across an entire campaign. In many cases again, this can sometimes result in a decent amount of traffic still flowing through and a fairly successful campaign on a macro level. However, having spent time generating a thorough and customer focused campaign, go the extra mile and manage your campaign on a micro level too - managing your bids via keywords and adgroups. This strategy will save money in both CPC and CPA increasing your profit levels.

Bidding and budgeting is a complex but crucial part to managing a cost effective and profitable campaign (what ever the return measurement is). Whether your approach is micro or macro management, remember to decide on your campaign objectives & pain threshold first (maximum CPC, CPA etc.) plan your budgets and always track your campaigns.

If you avoid or combat these five pitfalls, then you should be on your way to managing a successful paid search campaign!



1 - Google's Quality Based Bidding evaluates the most relevant ads and keywords within AdWords. These factors include performance variables like keyword click-through rate (CTR), ad text relevance, overall historical keyword performance with Google and the user experience on the landing page or site associated with an ad. Google put all of these factors and more together to create a Quality Score; the measurement of an ad's quality in relation to each of your keywords.

Your keyword's Quality Score is not set in stone and can increase or decrease based on changes, good or bad, to the quality of your ad, keyword or landing page. This score can also change due to strong performance in AdWords; a high click-through rate, for example, can help to increase your overall Quality Score.

Google regularly improve upon how the AdWords system uses these signals to identify and show the highest quality ads. Although Google continues to refine the Quality Score formula, the central idea remains the same: this score represents high quality advertising on Google AdWords.

Currently, the formula is best represented as: Quality Score = (keyword's CTR, ad text relevance, keyword relevance, landing page relevance)*

* The interactions between the Quality Score variables change as Google continues to refine how to measure and define quality in AdWords. A keyword's Quality Score directly affects your keyword's status and your related ad's pricing and position on a given page.

2 - The Long Tail is the keyword exploration process, which effectively taps into qualified traffic looking at high volume niche, overlooked and less premium search terms that enable you to cast a wider net at the less costly end of the cost per click spectrum. The long-tail is essential to achieving quality.

3 - Adapt is the world's first purpose built technology platform for paid advertising. Developed in-house and offered exclusively by Greenlight; Adapt takes bid management technologies to the next level. It is the first platform in the industry to use live client databases to update PPC ad copy, based on inventory levels and pricing. Greenlight has developed the landmark Adapt technology in response to the changing face of paid search advertising. Especially now paid search is increasingly being assessed on relevancy and the quality of your ad copy and landing page experience. For further information see

4 - Bid Management is a toolset which allows for the programming and automation of complex bidding exercises, critical tasks and campaign management routines on large keyword groups across multiple search engines.



Ad Copy: The ad copy for a paid search listing to be displayed in search engine results pages when a relevant keyword you have chosen is searched for.

Ad Group: A list of related keywords that form what is referred to as an ad group on Google Adwords.

Bid Management: Setting a bid management application to bid automatically without any intervention. Therefore if a competitor was to bid ahead of your set position, then you would move in front and pay a penny more than them.

Bid: The amount that you are willing to pay for a click. On paid search networks this will be for a click thru to your website. For pay per call, you will be bidding for a phone call.

Click Thru Rate (CTR): This is based on how popular your ads are in terms of users clicking thru to your website.

Cost Per Click (CPC): The amount you pay when a user clicks on an ad. Also called Pay per Click (PPC).

Cost Per Acquisition (CPA): the cost to an advertiser when a predetermined action is taken by a user when clicking on a PPC ad. Actions may include a sales transaction, a customer acquisition, a click, form filling or subscription.

Conversions: When a user clicks thru to your website and the desired end result is obtained, this could be a purchase; form submission; subscription or a phone call etc.

Conversion Rate (CR): Percentage of conversions on your website, the formula is calculated on the number of clicks divided by the number of conversions.

Impression: The number of ad views, whether pertaining to banners or ads regardless of clicks or actions taken on viewing the ad in a browser.

Keyword: Keywords are entered into the search box of a search engine and produce a list of results displayed to the user on. Keywords in relation to PPC are the list of words that relate to the products or services that you sell.

Minimum Bid: The minimum amount that you are willing to pay-per-click for keywords or ad groups. Also referred to as Minimum CPC.

Maximum Bid: The maximum amount that you are willing to pay-per-click for keywords or ad groups. Also referred to as Maximum CPC.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC): A form of advertising whereby a person pays a certain amount of money every time a user clicks on one of their ads on the SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages) and is routed through to their website. Also known as CPC, Paid Search and Pay for performance.

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